Woman dies at hospital, family claims she was disposed of like ‘garbage'

MEMPHIS — After a woman died inside a Memphis hospital, her family is claiming the way she was buried was unethical.

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The woman’s sister just found out Friday that she was buried last month – without the family’s permission.

Eartha Duncan said her family’s only wish for the holidays is to give her sister – Rowena Burton, 63 – a proper burial.

“My sister had a family. She had a mother, and you just dispose of her like she garbage,” Duncan said.

She said it started in August, when Burton had foot surgery at Methodist South for poor circulation.

Duncan said the doctor hit an artery, and her sister bled out.

Burton suffered a stroke after she was transferred to Methodist University Hospital, and she died on Aug. 29.

Duncan told FOX13 that is when her mother requested an autopsy. Family said they finally received a copy of the autopsy after weeks of requests, but they never got a copy of the death certificate.

Methodist University and the Shelby County Health Department gave her family "the runaround" when asked about the remains, she said.

After several weeks, Duncan said the hospital finally told them that the woman's remains were taken to Shelby County Cemetery in Bartlett.

FOX13 spoke with the owner of the cemetery, who said the hospital told him to pick up the remains. He buried Burton's remains on Oct. 31.

Duncan showed her phone records and paperwork to FOX13 that shows the family went through the “proper channels” when attempting to bury the woman.

“Now we can’t,” Duncan said. “I want them to exhume that body, so we can have a proper burial for my sister – that’s not what we wanted at all.”

The health department told FOX13 that it does not have that woman’s name on record.

FOX13 reached out to Methodist regarding the incident.

Hospital officials released the following statement:

"We understand that it is extremely hard to lose a loved one, and that's why we follow specific procedures to help us honor patients' and their families' wishes. This includes reaching out to the family contact listed on a patient's medical chart to confirm their wishes. After multiple attempts to make contact, if we are unable to reach the designated family member, we notify Shelby County for burial."